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The Scarlet & Black

Out of Order: Admitted students weekend can be great for our rep

This weekend, an admitted students program will take place here at Grinnell. As I understand it, the goal of these programs is to attract students with acceptance letters to enroll at the College. The program costs thousands of dollars—mailings, catering and extra staff time add up quickly—and can make everyday activities, from eating in the Dining Hall to working quietly in Burling, difficult.

Some have criticized these programs as working to exude an image of Grinnell that is inconsistent with who we are as an institution. Others have spoken out against the programs because they are expensive, and that the money we spend on them might be spent more productively on other things.

I disagree. Rather than a waste of money, I believe that the expenditure and hassle involved with admitted students weekends is worth it. I argue that these programs are a good thing for admitted students, current students and the College.

Negative reactions to these expensive admitted student programs are understandable. From my first year at Grinnell, as I have written about in previous columns, administration actions have irked students, particularly when they cost a lot of money. We’ve spent millions on consultants, most recently on the unpopular Institutional Identity project. 

Further, these expenditures have occurred against a backdrop of contentious financial aid policy discussions. While instituting an endowment-awareness campaign (“When tuition steps out, who steps in?”) and simultaneously proclaiming that College operations over-rely on the endowment, the administration, sanctioned by the Board of Trustees, have instituted successive tuition hikes. In sum, it’s a bad time for expensive, inconvenient programming.

I agree with some of these concerns. The College has indeed spent enormous sums of money on consultants, who have advised us on everything from town-gown relations to the color of the benches on campus. While student outreach was largely impressive, the discussions surrounding financial aid could have been more transparent. And, as a tuition payer myself, I understand the frustration at the ever-increasing cost of a Grinnell education.

However, I also believe the benefits of these admitted student programs are numerous. Most obviously, admitted students gain a better understanding of Grinnell and whether it might or might not be a fit for them. This is a plus for the students, who doubtless appreciate the opportunity to experience a school to which they have been admitted. It is also a positive thing for current students: we would hardly want a freshman class that did not feel that they belonged at Grinnell.

If the admitted students have a positive experience here, they will tell their friends and family, enhancing Grinnell’s reputation via word of mouth. These weekends are thus an advertising tool: by exuding a positive image of Grinnell to a few, our image may also be improved in the minds of many. This has the potential to increase future applications, generating interest in the College and attracting a greater number of students to apply.

In the longer term, if these programs succeed not only in giving admitted students a positive experience at Grinnell but also in attracting a higher number of applications, this will drive down our acceptance rate. A lower acceptance rate will drive Grinnell’s ranking up, securing a place in the world of “elite liberal arts colleges” that many administrators here covet. This works out to be a positive thing for both the College and current students, as, when we graduate, our degree will look more impressive.

Admitted student weekends do indeed carry a heavy price tag, and they make parts of our lives here inconvenient. Set against College finance discussions, they may not initially make much sense. However, the benefits they afford—advertising, college choice, ranking and cohesion of the student body—far outweigh these costs.

So, to you, the admitted student reading this, I offer my congratulations to you on being admitted to the Grinnell College Class of 2018, the most selective class Grinnell has ever had. And to you, the current student skimming this, I urge you to appreciate these weekends as a useful tool not merely for the College, but for us. 

And they’re a great way to snag some free catering pastries, too.

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